Fred (Christopher Lambert) has just robbed some valuable papers and is currently hurtling down a Parisien motorway with a car full of the thugs of the man he has stolen from in hot pursuit. They are too close for comfort, and when the cassette Fred has been listening to breaks, thereby spoiling his enjoyment of the chase, he decides to take drastic action and smashes through a barrier, along a side street and right into the Paris Metro. Getting out, he breaks into a sprint and loses himself on one of the train carriages, shaking off the thugs in the process - he could get to like this place.
After his cult success with Le Dernier Combat, writer and director Luc Besson came up with a film where people actually spoke to each other, and that also became a cult favourite, especially among those who liked their French cinema stylish. This was so chic that the dreaded phrase "style over substance" was never too far away from its detractors' lips, and indeed the lips of those quite well disposed towards it, as it came across as if Besson had settled on the Metro as a place where he could stage a host of cool scenes. The plot rarely strays from the underground, but he turns this location to his advantage by treating it as a wacky wonderland.
This means that Subway frequently grows daft, and all in the service of that killer shot, recklessly romantic line of dialogue, or instance of indulgent humour. Therefore if you like that kind of thing, you will probably like this a lot and needless to say if this is the type of movie that you think will drive you up the wall with its cutesiness, then doubtlessly that's the reaction it will generate in you. This is not Besson's best film, but if you surrender yourself to its charms then you can get lost in its labyrinthine tunnels and swooning enthusiasm for life. Helping is Lambert, who is the ideal protagonist for this, with his bleached blonde hair and twinkly way with ingratiating his character, not only with the other people he meets but with the audience as well.
The person Fred realy wants to win over is the wife of the man he has robbed, Helena, played by Isabelle Adjani and rivalling Lambert in the coolness stakes. Or at least she does until you start to notice an arrogance about Subway where the in crowd, basically anyone who lives on the underground and avoids the police apart from Helena, are judged far better as individuals than anyone who might be part of the law, or even those who end up being a victim of them. Besson just about pulls this off, but a scene where Helena attends a dinner party and acts like a petulant brat because she'd rather be with her new friends is pretty hard to take; it's the worst sequence in the movie and makes us think twice about her and those she is mixing with.
Meanwhile, Fred is trying to get some money for the papers, a plot point which emerges as having a tiny amount of significance in the great scheme of things, as it is the love story that is intended to concern us here. But it's a romance that doesn't go very far, not really a love-hate affair, not consummated in any way, and ending abruptly (well, maybe - Besson doesn't appear to have the heart to close off all possibilities at the finale). Most of the fun derives from the next chase scene, or the selection of eccentrics that Fred encounters from the bodybuilder who comes in useful for breaking handcuffs to the rollerskater (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who makes his living as a high speed purse snatcher on wheels (supposed to be a sympathetic character, remember). Jean Reno also appears as a drummer in the band Fred is trying to help out, but Subway is best as a selection of scenes anyway, and taken as a whole is generally so fluffy it would blow away in a stiff breeze. Music by Eric Serra.